[The Sunday Salon] Filling the Creative Well with Nonfiction

This year I’m committing to something a little different from previous years’ reading resolutions. I’d like to read a lot more nonfiction as well as keeping up with all the fiction on my to-read list.

I love reading fiction because good fiction transports me into another world and introduces me to interesting characters and thought-provoking situations. I can become immersed in a good book and it’s that immersion that forms the foundation of the pleasure I get from reading fiction.

Fiction can also fuel my creativity; I’ve gotten many ideas for stories and novels as a result of seeing something in another novel I’m reading. This happens to me with television and movies, too.

But it’s nonfiction that really ups my creative output. Maria Popova talks about combinatorial creativity – how all the bits and pieces of information and memories and knowledge you carry inside your head comes together to form ideas, lots and lots of ideas if you let the process happen – and this has always been the way creativity has worked for me.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about "filling the well". She’s referring to the idea of an inner artistic well that informs all of our creativity. It’s an analogy that I think works well with the idea of combinatorial creativity. While Cameron advocates going on "artist’s dates" – actual physical excursions – in order to keep our inner artistic well maintained, for me such excursions are more appropriate for helping me open up to the present moment, something else that’s required when I’m involved in a creative endeavour.

But the best way for me to keep my inner artistic well pumped and primed and well-maintained is by opening myself up to a flotsam of information. Anything and everything I find interesting has a place in my creativity, and the randomness of the information plays a key role. It’s in reading nonfiction that I most often stumble onto such things – interesting-to-me ideas, facts, concepts, often mere scraps of information, sometimes just a sentence or phrase – that ignite the spark that pulls together other completely unrelated pieces of information to form a shiny new idea.

Myths and legends work that way for me, too. I guess such work is really fiction, but I tend to place myths and legends in a category all its own, not quite nonfiction, not quite fiction – but definitely fertile fuel for the imagination.

So this year, along with tackling my fiction to-read list, I’ll be reading stacks and stacks of nonfiction too, with a stack of blank index cards at my side for jotting down the bits and pieces that interest me. I plan on using the index cards as a tactile, visual aid when playing with my creativity, in much the same way I use archetypal oracle cards.

Here are some of the nonfiction titles I’ll be using to fill my creative well over the next few weeks:

The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson

Finding Arthur by Adam Ardrey

Finding Arthur, by Adam Ardrey

making of middle earth by Christopher Snyder

The Making of Middle Earth, by Christopher Snyder

A London Year by Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison

A London Year: 365 Days of City Life in Diaries, Journals and Letters,

by Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison

Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary,

by Caspar Henderson

What about you? Do you read nonfiction, or do you mostly stick with fiction? If you’re a writer, what are some ways you use to fill your creative well?

9 thoughts on “[The Sunday Salon] Filling the Creative Well with Nonfiction

  1. Brette

    I mainly read fiction, because I look for an escape in my reading from my own nonfiction writing. Occasionally I will read a biography or memoir. I do like Anne Lamott. I also read cookbooks and some self-help health books when there is info I need.

  2. Joanna

    I love non fiction, I find it totally inspiring. I use it to improve and develop in all ways really. Though I like fiction, I find I’m more drawn to non fiction these days and my tbr list is exploding!

  3. heidenkind

    I want to read more non-fiction this year, too! I’m starting the year off right with Writing In Pictures by Joseph McBride.

  4. Bryan G. Robinson

    I want to like nonfiction. Really I do, but I just have to come to terms with the fact that I’m a fiction person. I’ve tired over the last couple of years to add more nonfiction with little to no success. However, I like your ideas on why you want to read nonfiction and how you plan to use note cards. I think they are all praiseworthy (yay, you! :) ), but they’re not for me (yay? me? or boo! me! I guess 😉 ).

  5. Teddyree

    Finding Arthur caught my eye, I love the history and legends but tend to read mainly fiction. Out of 100 or so books I read each year only 10 are non-fiction but I really enjoy them when I do pick them up. 2013 I think my faves were Bonjour 40 and The Happiest Refugee: A Memoir by Ahn Do.
    Happy reading :)

  6. Vasilly

    Nonfiction is a genre that I love in all forms but I found myself not reading that much of it last year. I need to change that in 2014.

    In This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett wrote something similar about filling yourself with reading, writing, and experiences and how that translate into your writing. I’ve been thinking about that. Fairy tales of all sorts fill my well along. I think it’s time for me to add some new experiences too.

    Happy New Year.


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